Friday, September 06, 2013

Separate Is Not Equal: What I Saw in Blood's Pride by Evie Manieri

Military fantasy - and I am lumping in with this quest-based fantasy based around a military goal - tends to fit a general mold.  The world-building is a huge focus of this: it is where the stakes come from, it is where most of the characterization comes from, and it is what sets the tone.  Notably, this is not restricted to fantasy; it is very rare that a war story with a military goal does not draw these three things and more from the nature of the war and what parties are involved.  A Vietnam story has a very different feel than a World War Two story has a different feeling from a Civil War story, yet they are all made of the same building blocks.  Similarly, the conflict, the makeup of the military unit, and the origins of the soldiers are all important elements to these types of stories.

Evie Manieri's Blood's Pride is a novel that meets much of this criteria.  The largest divisions in this novel are racial lines: the cadaverous Norlanders, who invaded the Shadar years ago and took its people as slaves; the Shadari, a highly religious people with little military capacity of their own; and the Nomas, a nomadic race that exists outside of either Norlander or Shadari society.  In the conflict between the slavemasters and their slaves, it is the Norlander leader Freya and the Shadari Harotha that drive their respective sides of the conflict.  The Nomas, as you may have gathered from my description, exist largely as an audience proxy.  For much of the novel, there is one Nomas present, and he is an observer.  He is placed directly into the action, yet he is both powerful enough that nobody puts him at risk while being benign enough that he does not drive the story himself.  King Jachad serves a role in the story similar to that of Wendy Darling might in the conflict between Peter Pan and Captain Hook

As fans of the military fantasy genre are well aware of, this emphasis on world-building and conflict often results in sacrifices in the realm of the characters.  For all the J.R.R. Tolkien was a visionary in creating his world, the dryness that drives many people away from his novels could have been fixed if he had put as much attention on the characters as he did everything else.  While some of the best authors and editors can create a well-rounded story of this mold such as George Lucas's Star Wars or R. A. Salvatore's War of the Spider Queen, it generally is the exception, rather than the rule, and it's notable that both of my examples had three or more writers involved in the story.

Blood's Pride is no different in this manner than any other military fantasy novel.  I have no idea what most of these characters are like on their own.  I don't know their hobbies, their fears, or how they see themselves twenty years down the line.  I don't know what their relationship with their parents was like, or what makes them happy.  In fact, I don't even know what they look like.  I can tell you what two characters in the entire novel look like, and that's because they are both on the front cover.  Beyond that, there is virtually nothing in the way of description for any of the characters.

But Blood's Pride has a trump card.  You see, women's fantasy is known for a different set of traits than military fantasy - a traditionally male-dominated field - is.  To look at the far extreme, I've had female readers turn down the offer of free books I've recommended due to the concern that fantasy they've read that was written by women focused on the romance to the exclusion of all else.  As I said, this is an extreme scenario, and I certainly feel that I have better choice in books than to find myself stuck with something that focuses entirely on one aspect when that's not something I want to read about.  Still, sometimes, there is a point here.  A niche market of women's fiction exists when it comes to topic that most male authors are less interested in writing (or sometimes interested yet lacking the emotional tools) and that most male readers are less interested in reading.  There are a thousand social and evolutionary factors I could describe that have to do with this, but ultimately, we all know that Twilight was no more random happenstance than the WWE.  This has created a separate group of skills that most female authors - whether willingly or merely to keep up with the pack - have developed.

These skills are generally such things as emotional interaction between characters - not just romance, but the interactions between Harry Potter and Ron Weasley or the bond between Kal Skirata and his commandos.  Female authors (and male authors who have made a career catering to female audiences) also tend to be better at writing non-martial characters realistically dealing with fight-or-flight situations; they are much more often faced with an audience that wants a relatable survival scene rather than an inspiring battle.

All of this carries into Blood's Pride.  Where the environment applies stakes to the overall outcome of a battle, the character relationships are what gives the stakes to each individual encounter.  You don't want this person to die because you want to see their unique interactions with that person developed.  This character is clearly distinguishable from this other, similar character because their circle of acquaintances treats them differently.

The end result is that a lot of the flaws in the genre are covered up, resulting , in a more well-rounded overall story.  While the characters have little depth on their own, when you combine them in a group they become something you want to read about to see how it goes and what comes of them.    The end result is that a completely average story becomes something you are invested in.  Of course, in following with some of the complaints I mentioned hearing above, it could be said that the other character elements were neglected in favor of adding in extra romantic elements.  Honestly...I call bullshit on that.  There was every chance - actually, that's not true.  There was almost a certainty, unless Evie Manieri is in the top tier of authors, that these same elements would have been neglected.  The simple fact is, most authors are going to sacrifice certain elements to make others work, and most often these are going to be sacrifices so instinctive or tied to the genre that they don't even notice what they are sacrificing.

Still, at the end of the day, Blood's Pride is a perfect example of how combining elements that are traditionally used to attract male and female audiences together creates a whole that is more effective than either would be alone.  Without the military elements this might have seemed like a feeble attempt at stringing together a romance story between shallow characters.  Without the star-crossed and other romances, Blood's Pride would be just another rebellion story where the species are barely defined and there is not enough character to truly care how many of them die in the process of getting the story from Point A to Point B.  With both elements, however, the story is more fleshed out, and there is something for both "male" and "female" audiences to invest in.


Blodeuedd said...

I can't make my mind up whether I would like it or not...

Maurice Mitchell said...

Sometimes mashing up two genres make the final result even better. Nice.

Nicole Hewitt said...

Interesting. I don't think I would have taken a second look at this book honestly, but your post title caught my eye and your thoughts got me interested. I think I'll check it out now! Thanks!

Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

William Silvia said...

Thanks for your comments! I was concerned with this article (to the point that it took me three weeks to write it) with the idea that it might be taken wrong and that I was in some way bashing one gender for another. Your responses make me even more confident that writing it was the best thing to do.

Charles Gramlich said...

it often feels as if its true that you can't have everything in a book. Most books are like that.